James Jay Edwards

Dear Evan Hansen Doesn’t Quite Translate to the Big Screen

(Dear Evan Hansen, courtesy Universal Pictures)

James Jay Edwards reviews Dear Evan Hansen, an adaptation of the 2015 stage musical, directed by Stephen Chbosky and starring Ben Platt. (Universal Pictures

 

In 2015, the stage musical Dear Evan Hansen became a snapshot of a generation, something that the disaffected kids of the time could latch onto and call their own. Because it was a hit, we’ve now got a movie adaptation of the Tony and Grammy Award-winning show.

Dear Evan Hansen is about a high school boy, of course, named Evan Hansen (Pitch Perfect’s Ben Platt reprising his Broadway role), with social anxiety so bad that his mother, Heidi (Still Alice’s Julianne Moore), sends him to a psychiatrist who asks him to write letters to himself detailing how good each day can and will be. When a troubled classmate named Connor Murphy (Colton Ryan from Uncle Frank) finds one of the letters on a printer at school, he takes it. Then goes home and commits suicide.

 

(Dear Evan Hansen, theatrical release poster, courtesy Universal Pictures)

Because Evan’s letter was found with their son, Connor’s parents (Arrival’s Amy Adams and Cold Case’s Danny Pino) believe that Evan and Connor were best friends and that the letter was a suicide note written to Evan. Evan, who has had a crush on Connor’s sister, Zoe (Kaitlyn Dever from Booksmart), for years, initially decides to play along as the family pries him for more information about the son they hardly knew. But Evan’s fabricated relationship with Connor snowballs and quickly spirals out of his control.

Dear Evan Hansen was brought to the screen by director Stephen Chbosky (Wonder, The Perks of Being a Wallflower) from a script that was adapted by the show’s original Tony-winning writer, Steven Levenson (who also worked on Fosse/Verdon and Masters of Sex). There are some liberties taken with the show, most notably in the third act, but that’s not really the problem. The movie’s main issue is that it doesn’t connect with its audience the way the stage show did/does.

 

(Dear Evan Hansen, courtesy Universal Pictures)

Stripped of its immediacy and intimacy, the story of Dear Evan Hansen just becomes another coming-of-age high school movie about a relationship built on a lie. One of the changes from the stage show involves consequences for Evan, which only serves to “Hollywood up” the production. It may not be a typical high-school romp, but it’s close. And that’s not what Dear Evan Hansen should be. It should be an emotional rollercoaster. Instead, it’s a fluff piece.

 


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The strength of Dear Evan Hansen, both the show and the movie, is in the music. Written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (the duo behind the music to La La Land and The Greatest Showman), the songs are as catchy and singalong as they come, sounding a lot like what you’d get if Ben Folds were to write show tunes. Some songs from the show have been cut, two new ones have been added, and many of the rest have been shuffled and reworked a bit, but the music remains at the front and center of the production. Even though the songs are somewhat awkwardly shoehorned in at times, they are all top-notch.

 

(Dear Evan Hansen, courtesy Universal Pictures)

It’s hard to say why Dear Evan Hansen fails to charm its audience. The performances are solid, the music (as mentioned) is stellar, and it’s got the same theme of loneliness and awakening that made the stage show appeal to an entire generation. There’s just something about the story that doesn’t translate to the big screen. Odds were pretty good that the movie wasn’t going to be as good as the show, but Dear Evan Hansen really wastes the potential of its name.

Dear Evan Hansen is now playing in theaters.

 

 

Check out the podcast Eye On Horror for more with James Jay Edwards, and also features Jonathan Correia and Jacob Davison.

 

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